HARTFORD— Amid the push by state legislators to establish a National Historical Park in the Coltsville Historic District, local and state officials met the U.S. secretary of Interior on Saturday to tour the building and grounds and discuss the steps needed to propel the project forward.
"This project is more than bricks and mortar," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., during a press conference outside the Colt Building early Saturday afternoon. "This project is a poster child, not for Hartford's past, but for its future. We are at a critical junction for this project. We are so close we can taste it."
Blumenthal, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra joined Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior for the tour of the former firearms factory.
Blumenthal said the project has the potential to create jobs, revitalize downtown Hartford and bolster tourism in the capital city.
The Coltsville Historic District, an area anchored by the Colt firearms complex with its blue onion dome alongside I-91, has been the subject of years of preservation efforts by advocates and officials at Colt Gateway LLC — the developers who are looking to convert the building into apartments and commercial space.
Shedding paint flakes, its aged interior in serious need of repair, the rusty complex appears to be more of an eyesore than a historical landmark. Panes of glass are broken or missing, and the wooden floorboards, sagging with age, have been nailed over each other in some spots as a slapdash reinforcement solution.
"There is no finer spot in Connecticut to become a national park," Malloy said. "It tells in many different levels our industrial past."
Salazar agreed, saying that the historic district would boost the local economy because it is a "magnet."
"Samuel and Elizabeth Colt played a pivotal role in America's Industrial Revolution when they established Coltsville, a first-of-its-kind industrial community that helped transform manufacturing in this country," Salazar said. "Today, as a historical site that draws visitors from across the nation, Coltsville again promises to be an economic engine, producing jobs and spurring growth in the Hartford area."
Salazar said the nation's 394 national parks welcomed more than 281 million visitors last year who spent nearly $12 billion and supported 247,000 jobs. The Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts, another site that commemorates the industrial revolution in New England, drew 565,000 visitors in 2009 and supports more than 432 jobs in the local community, he said.
In July, members of the state's congressional delegation revived a bill that would designate Coltsville as a national park. The measure was introduced in the Senate by Blumenthal and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. It was also introduced in the House by Larson.
Coltsville was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008, a step toward the national park designation. In 1976, the area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Most recently, a National Park Service study found Coltsville to be a nationally significant site that merits recognition.
Supporters say the park would span more than 200 acres and draw tourists to the Mark Twain and Harriett Beecher Stowe houses and to the Riverfront Recapture area.
Proponents also say that it would create new jobs and help downtown businesses by drawing people to the area.
Courant staff writer Jenna Carlesso contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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